Göran Wärff (1933-2022) was a doyen of Kosta Boda and the entire Kingdom of Crystal – a legend who was connected to our history and who was part of shaping the Swedish glass tradition for more than 60 years.
Göran was from Slite on the island of Gotland, and was out at sea with the senior pilot from a young age. The past few years, he lived with his wife on Hau Gård farm by beautiful Ar, on the rocky coastline of the northwestern tip of the island. The legacy of his place of origin permeates his glass art – since he began, the sea was Göran’s greatest source of inspiration. The feeling of the endless ocean is reflected in Göran’s art.
Wärff’s artistic and aesthetic interests were awakened early and cultivated by his beloved maternal uncle, who was an artist in London. Wärff spent his summer vacations with his uncle, with regular visits to the Tate and the National Portrait Gallery. His initial plan was to become an architect, but his longing for the sea and adventure would have to be satisfied first. In the mid-50s, his year of compulsory military service, where he worked in radar surveillance, was extended with a trip around the world on the H.M.S. Älvsnabben.
Eventually, Göran began to study architecture in Germany. His studies involved a practical component in various crafts. As a masonry apprentice, he realized his lifelong love for glass while working on an assignment at the Pukeberg Glassworks. On breaks, Göran was drawn to the hot air of the ovens. He started to sketch. His talent was soon discovered by the head of the glassworks, who asked him to submit a few ideas for a new household collection.
“I pulled a few all-nighters in Ljungby, where we were living at the time, and where my father was a pharmacist. I found the key to my father’s liquor cabinet, so I sat and listened to recordings of the Dylan Thomas play ‘Under Milk Wood,’ trying out drinks and sketching suitable glasses for them. Once I was back in Germany, I received a letter that said they had used one of my glasses: Tinto, with a little snaps glass at the foot, so that you could have snaps while drinking wine from the bowl. Then I received a check for royalties. The export manager was overjoyed and I was offered a contract.”
Göran Wärff considered Pukeberg, where he worked as a designer from 1958, to be his most important school of glass. He was interested in the technical side of the craft and had the opportunity to experiment with different techniques. “That was my university. It was where I became captivated by glass, and I could explore by trying things you weren’t supposed to do until I found that ultimate feeling in the glass.”
From Pukeberg, Wärff was hired by Kosta Boda, where he was actively working from 1964 until his passing in 2022. The glassworks’ artistic director at the time was the great Vicke Lindstrand. “But his style was too traditional,” says Göran. The spirit of the sixties, with Erik Höglund at Boda Glassworks, expressed something else – a relationship that could perhaps be traced to Wärff’s powerful yet boldly experimental, self-confident, and elegant style in terms of form and color.
In his long career as a glass artist and designer, Göran Wärff had countless exhibitions in many countries. He spent time living abroad in Australia and the UK, but he always continued to create both utility and art glass for Kosta Boda. His glass art received many prestigious awards. His public commissions include works for the Sydney Opera House, a mosque in Abu Dhabi, the Växjö Cathedral, Astrid Lindgren’s World in Vimmerby, and the UN’s IMO building in London.
Nature’s constant presence in Göran Wärff’s glass art is clear. “But it’s easy to say nature. It isn’t always that literal. I find the parallel processes of growth and decay to be fascinating. The sea and the light are there as well, of course.”
Optics constitutes another concept with which Göran Wärff is associated. His art is characterized by continuous experimentation with clear glass, with hints of color. A hallmark of his creations is that they often present other optical effects in addition to those apparent upon first glance, like treasure and light phenomena glimmering from the depths of the ocean.
“I like it when a piece has content,” says Göran, “when it can be alluring from one angle, and you see something else when you turn it, with color reflected inside the glass. I’ve always cared a great deal about craftsmanship, and I’ve wanted to help keep it alive. There are so many possibilities in the studio and when the piece is cold and ready, there is new life to explore in the cutting process.”